It has been clear for some time that cornerback Cedric Griffin would not return in 2012, and the recent injury history of guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera made now a logical time to part ways with them as well. The trio were three of the team's longest-tenured players, with a combined 19 years spent in some fashion with the organization, and their departures mark the start of what is expected to be a major roster overhaul under new general manager Rick Spielman.
A few thoughts:
The departures clear more than $10 million in salary cap space, giving the Vikings a little more than a $20 million surplus this offseason. That's enough for them to be a significant player in the free-agent market if they choose to.
Unless there have been contract talks that have gone unreported, another longtime veteran could follow these players out the door. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is a pending free agent and dealt with a balky knee for much of last season.
Releasing both starting guards is a strong indication that the Vikings will draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall and move former left tackle Charlie Johnson to one of the guard spots. I would consider the other starting guard spot fluid at this point.
Hutchinson made it through six years of the landmark seven-year contract he signed prior to the 2006 season. The Vikings made him the highest-paid guard in NFL history, believing he was a unique player for the position and one they could build the rest of a championship line around. Indeed, Hutchinson was named an All-Pro in the first four of those seasons before injuries slowed him down. He probably would have been good for another year, and perhaps he'll play elsewhere in 2012, but the Vikings deemed his $7 million cap hit too high for a rebuilding scenario.
We discussed Hutchinson's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer. He is a seven-time All-Pro, was a member of the NFL's all-decade team of the 2000s and was one of the best players at his position during this generation.